Day Nine: San Francisco – Dim Sum Tour

Food Adventures, San Francisco

On our last day of our One Week, Three Cities trip and for our first meal(s) of 2012, we decided to spend the afternoon in Chinatown and have ourselves a dim sum tour. What we hadn’t anticipated was the lack of seating. While there are plenty restaurants that serve the sit-down dim sum brunch we’re used to, a lot of the more popular dim sum places are a grab-and-go sort of joint. Lines out the door and into the sidewalk, steamer baskets stacked high with different types of dumplings and goodies on each level, yelling across the counter in a mix of Mandarin and broken English. It’s definitely an experience!

As our bus approached Chinatown, the signs became increasingly flecked with Chinese characters and the sights and smells became increasingly more reminiscent of home. Conducting your own dim sum tour is simple — just follow your nose and eyes… and bring cash.

Look at all those dumplings and buns! I want all of them!

We had jotted down a few key places to visit and hit Good Mong Kok first. Known for their dim sum staples, we decided to pick up a selection of our go-to dim sum items: har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings with a clear, sticky wrapper), sticky rice steamed in banana leaves, and cha siu pao (barbecue pork filled buns). Unsure of how to proceed, we stood right out on the sidewalk and started munching on the har gow. Yummy morsels with a juicy filling and soft, translucent wrapper, these really hit the spot.

A whole tray of har gow!

We took a gamble and decided to continue on our search for more dim sum (and hopefully a place to sit and dig in!), so off we went toward Wing Sing Dim Sum. Here we found more of the same basics, including dumplings in many varieties, but what caught our eyes were the xia chang fun (steamed rice noodles with shrimp and sweet soy sauce) and dahn tat (egg custard tarts). And just as noteworthy, here we found a place to sit! Wing Sing has some tables available in the back for self-seating; on the way we also spotted ads for some killer lunch specials ($5 for a plate of rice or noodles and sides? Awesome!). The verdict? The sticky rice had a good texture (not mushy nor undercooked) but it was a bit bland. The cha siu pao, which many people seemed to recommend, are good but the filling was a bit too sweet for my liking. The xia chang fun, our favorite dim sum dish, from Wing Sing looked good in its clear clam-shell packaging with the sweet soy sauce in a little container on the side. It would have tasted even better if it were warm. I guess bringing it home to a microwave would have been one advantage of doing take-out dim sum as the locals do. The dahn tat custard middle was delicious but the crust was dense, more like a pie crust rather than the flakier phyllo crusts we prefer. All in all though, our brunch only cost us about $7 total, so we can’t complain!

Dim Sum Staple: Xia Chang Fun (Steamed Rice Noodle Sheets with Shrimp and Sweet Soy Sauce)

A dim sum brunch would not be complete for us without some delicious boba, so we stopped by Ten Ren TeaStation. Note: the term “boba” for those little tapioca balls varies by region. I tried a few Yelp App queries for “bubble tea” and “pearl tea” after “boba” generated few results. Ten Ren is a popular brand of loose leaf and bagged teas, sold in grocery stores and in many retail locations, so I love stopping by TeaStation when I can. I had their sweetened iced black tea with grass jelly and Martin had their iced black milk tea with boba. The grass jelly was a great texture and reminded me of the cans of suong xao that I used to buy at the Vietnamese markets back home.

The rest of our day was spent walking off our dumpling-filled morning, window-shopping for Hello Kitty hats, and making our way toward Haight-Ashbury. By the time we hopped on the BART to catch our flight out of SFO, we were glad to be heading home. Our One Week, Three Cities adventure was full of fun and delicious noms. We hope our blog series will help some of you plan a future trip to Seattle, Portland, and/or San Francisco, or at least give you a chance to live vicariously through our photos and food adventures. Stay tuned as we return to posting recipes and local hotspots!

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Check out Good Mong Kok:

1039 Stockton St
(between Washington St & Jackson St)
San Francisco, CA 94108

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Wing Sing Dim Sum:

1125 Stockton St
(between Jackson St & Pacific Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94133

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Ten Ren TeaStation:

949 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Day Two: Seattle – Dim Sum and Henry’s Taiwan for Christmas

Food Adventures, Seattle

What we hadn’t anticipated about holiday travel was just how many places would be closed on Christmas Day. We asked around for ideas on what to do, and the general consensus seemed to be “Go to Chinatown.” Sounds like a plan!

Christmas morning, while children around the world are eagerly tearing up wrapping paper to uncover their presents, we stood outside of a cramped doorway packed with others who apparently had the same idea that we did – DIM SUM. Harbor City Restaurant and its neighbor Jade Garden Restaurant are local favorites for this weekend brunch of sorts. Did you know that dim sum is thought to have given rise to the Western concept of brunch? Who would’ve thought that thousands of years of traditional ‘yum cha’ with hot tea and dumplings would one day evolve into pancakes and French toast. But I digress.

Dim Sum Staples: Cha Siu Pao, Chicken Feet, Har Gow

Harbor City has one cart that holds most of the steamed items, and the waitstaff brings out the stirfried, fried, and baked items on trays in batches as the kitchen rotates through its repertoire. We ordered the staples: har gow, cha siu pao, chicken feet, turnip cake… oh my! The har gow had a nice and sticky wrapper the way I like it, and the shrimp filling was moist and succulent. The cha siu pao, touted as some of the best you could find in Seattle, were hot and fluffy. The barbecue pork filling was a little sweet for my liking, but the texture was perfect. And the chicken feet, if that’s your thing, were flavorful. The turnip cake (below) was crispy on the outside and had bits of lap xuong (Chinese sausage) throughout the turnip dough/paste.

Turnip Cake and Bor Lor Bao

We noticed a lack of our favorite steamed dish – xia chang fun (steamed rice noodle sheets with shrimp, served with a generous drizzle of sweet soy sauce), so we asked our server and she very eagerly brought out our request straight from the kitchen. Ask and you shall receive, indeed! It was warm and fresh with the familiar slippery texture.

Xia Chang Fun

We usually forgo the assortment of entrees and deep-fried offerings, but a pleasant surprise was the crispy shrimp and tofu – a cube of tofu topped with a dollop of shrimp paste, all battered, deep fried, and served with a sweet and sour sauce. Yum! They were wonderful and fresh, but be careful because they come out of the kitchen piping hot!

Crispy Shrimp and Tofu

For dessert, we had the usual – bor lor bao, dahn tat (egg tarts), and mango pudding. After polishing off the last savory dumpling, I dove in a bor lor bao (pictured above). Translated as “pineapple bun”, these baked goodies don’t actually contain pineapple (although some do) but are named for the way the top crust crumbles and looks like the pattern of a pineapple. These were filled with a sweet egg custard. Not the best I’ve had but they certainly satisfied my craving!

Mini Egg Tarts

The dahn tat here are smaller (and cuter!) than those at some other dim sum places. It has a great flaky crust to custard filling ratio. I could eat a dozen more of these!

Mango Pudding

Just as how no dim sum experience for me is complete without bor lor bao, so does Martin feel about ending his dim sum meal with mango pudding. The mango pudding here has bits of a chewier mango jelly, and the main pudding has a more ripe mango flavor and a less from-the-box taste than other places. And of course you can’t go wrong with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk!

As if that wasn’t enough to fuel us for the rest of the day, we wandered around and ended up stopping by Purple Dot Cafe. Rei had taken me here years ago when I visited, and I still remember her excitement over the black-and-white checkered jello. What brought us in, though, was the Hong Kong style milk tea and a dessert missing from Harbor City: sweet steamed tofu. Freshly made silken tofu topped with a simple syrup and ginger concoction, it’s the perfect way to truly complete a meal of dim sum.

Sweet Tofu

We realized that dinner would be hard to come by later on, so we planned ahead! First we stopped by A Piece of Cake; we had passed it on our walk between the station and Harbor City and marveled at the cake displays through the window. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go inside and take home a slice! My eyes darted around at the sheer quantity of beautifully decorated cakes, my stomach growled and my mind became increasingly overwhelmed by the choices.

Such a beautiful cake display at A Piece of Cake!

Finally, I saw it — the green tea honeydew mousse cake — and I just knew it would be the one. Martin already had his heart set on the mango pudding cup, so it was an easy transaction. Dessert in hand, we hopped down the block to Henry’s Taiwan, a place known to the locals as serving up some of the best night market style food. I opted for the must-try dish — beef shaved noodle soup. I asked it spicy and for the noodles to be kept separate so they don’t expand and get mushy before I get the chance to enjoy them. Martin perused the menu for some time before settling on the Shanghai wonton soup and an order of sticky rice from the dim sum offerings.

Beef Shaved Noodles

Christmas dinner in the hotel while watching The Travel Channel might sound less than ideal to some, but I think Martin and I made the best of it and ended up having a great evening. Our room came equipped with a microwave to reheat our meal and a set of table and chairs at which to enjoy it. My soup already smelled amazing but wow, I could eat those hand-shaven freshmade noodles with just the broth all day long and be happy as a clam. They were generous with the beef, which was fatty and cartilaginous just like Mom would make. The dessert was delicious as well — the cake was moist and the layers of creme were not too sweet, just the way I like it. Martin seemed to enjoy his mango pudding, but I think it could have used some condensed milk to make it even better.

Green Tea Honeydew Mousse Cake and Mango Pudding

All in all, we had a very merry Christmas with good food and good company. Despite most places being closed for business, we managed to uncover some great finds in Chinatown, a very worthwhile second day in Seattle.

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Check out Harbor City Restaurant:

707 S King St
(between S 7th Ave & S Canton Aly)
Seattle, WA 98104

Their hours are crazy – opening at 8:30am every day and not closing until midnight on the weekends.

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Purple Dot Cafe:

515 Maynard Ave S
(between King St & Weller St)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out A Piece of Cake:

514 S King St
(between S 5th Ave & S 6th Ave)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.

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Check out Henry’s Taiwan:

502 S King St
(between S 5th Ave & S 6th Ave)
Seattle, WA 98104

See their Yelp reviews here.